You can't change gear on the net

12th May 2006 at 01:00
How d'you get away with writing these articles for The TESS?" a colleague asked me around 10 years ago. "They're all about your bloody car!"

Looking back through my last umpteen pieces, hardly any of them have mentioned cars, so I think I can get away with it today. My plastic replica Jeep has gone, to be replaced by another kit car called a Mini Scamp. Take an air raid shelter, cross it with a Meccano set, mate the offspring with an Austin A-series engine and a Scamp is what you'll get.

It's a project for my son and me to work on. That's almost all I have to say about it, because this one isn't about my bloody car; it's about the bloody internet.

I have met people who think that the internet will completely change not only the way children are educated but the type of learning they will actually need to have. The teaching of knowledge is all but irrelevant, they say, as facts can be instantly pulled from the web.

I'm not so sure about this. I can't imagine being able to teach scientific thinking without a body of knowledge with which to give skills context.

That said, I can accept that the current balance of knowledge and skills in the curriculum is not necessarily the correct one. Presently, the net is a vast library that hosts not only classic texts but also every piece of vanity-published tripe that ever there was. I wanted to find information on the effects of an asteroid strike on the earth and had to filter out pages of quasi-mystical nonsense. In the end, rather than fostering true information-gathering skills, we may simply get children to rote-learn the addresses of a few credible pathways to valid data.

And here's another cautionary internet tale. My son and I decided to refurbish the Scamp's brakes. I took off one of the wheels and found that the brake drum was stuck fast. Back in the house, with the garage shut up for the night, I went on to eBay to try to find an appropriate tool for the drum's removal. Drum pullers came in different sizes, so I attempted to use Google to look up the diameter of the part I was trying to take off. After 20 minutes of going round the cyber-hooses, I was no further forward.

Searches on "Mini brake drums" led to broken links or incomplete information. Becoming ratty, I disconnected and played solitaire for a while.

The following day, I grabbed a tape measure, flipped open the garage door and measured the drum. The process took me 90 seconds.

Gregor Steele hopes to get the Scamp on the road for summer. Look out for a bright yellow mobile chicken shed.

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